When you mention Burgundy today, I think most Americans will think Chardonnay first. Pinot Noir is actually by far the most common grape variety in Burgundy, the ratio is around 3 to 1 in favor of that temperamental, demanding and sometimes frustrating black grape. In the Cotes de Nuits sub-region, it actually accounts for 90% of the planted vines. As I mentioned in a previous post, Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, imposed the exclusive use of the grape in the 14th century, and well, it shows.
Most of the Pinot Noir production in Burgundy is concentrated in the Cote d’Or part, with the Cote de Nuits being the premium region. The Cote Chalonnaise and Maconnais regions also produce some but nothing comparable in volume, quality and especially reputation. Pinot Noir wines from the best vineyards of the Cote d’Or are among the most revered sought after and expensive wines in the world
Pinot Noir is a temperamental grape, I think fickle would be a good word, you could even call it a diva. It’s a hard grape to grow, especially compared to survivors like Cabernet or Merlot. It’s low yield, thin skinned, very sensitive to frost and diseases, labor intensive and requires a lot of attention, sounds like a dream right?
However, there is a silver lining there, that fickleness and extreme sensitivity to its surroundings makes it well suited to Burgundy and its terroir-based wine industry. Due to the characteristics of the grape, wine made from Pinot Noir reflects different terrors like no other grape varieties. Tasting Cote d’Or reds is fascinating because all the wines are made from the exact same grape, they are all 100% Pinot Noir and yet they are all different. Pinot Noir is able to extract something from each terroir and turn it into something unique.
Even so, there are some general characteristics of wines made from Pinot Noir. As I said, the grapes are thin-skinned which in turn makes wine made from them a lighter shade of red, usually described as garnet. When young, the wines usually have aromas of small red and black berry fruits, what makes Pinot Noir from Burgundy interesting is that when they age they evolve towards more complex flavors. Aged Burgundy reds often evoke game or mushroom flavors for instance. To me, older Pinot Noirs always smell and taste like fall. If I close my eyes while drinking a Gevrey-Chambertin, I can see myself walking through a forest with fallen leaves after a rain shower.
This being said, Burgundy is not the only Pinot Noir producing region in the world and I’m currently trying to get better acquainted with New-Zealand or Oregon Pinots. Hopefully I can post some of my discoveries soon.